Residents of Isla Verde, joined by supporters, advocates, and various sectors, on Friday, formed a “human boom” in observance of Earth Day and to call for justice for the oil spill that has poisoned the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a biodiversity hotspot that provides, food, livelihood, and benefits to over two million Filipinos.
Traces of oil slick from the MT Princess Empress was found on the island on Monday. Verde Island is in the middle of the VIP, part of which is where the tanker sank with a cargo of 900,000 liters of industrial oil that continues to spread due to the lack of urgent action by the government.
“This human boom is a symbol of affected communities' unity and determination in our fight to save the Verde Island Passage from this oil spill which continues to pose threats to our health, lives, and livelihood. This Earth Day provides us with more fortitude to call for the protection of our common home and to call for everyone to be better stewards of the environment,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Convenor of Protect VIP, a coalition of groups advocating for the Verde Island Passage.
Almost two months after the sinking of the MT Princess Empress, concerned groups lamented the lack of transparency on who should be held liable for the incident.
“It is unthinkable that a disaster of this magnitude remains without punishment and yet this week, we heard the news that a simple employee in Cebu City was jailed for attempting to steal a pack of chocolates worth 400 pesos. According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the damage cost and losses due to the oil spill are about to breach the P1-billion mark but it seems that the government is toothless when it comes to implementing the law,” added Fr. Gariguez.
Christopher De Castro, a fisherman from Isla Verde, said that the damage to their fishing grounds and livelihood will not be solved by a simple clean-up.
“Nakakalungkot na hanggang ngayon ay nananatiling walang solusyon itong trahedya nito. Bawat araw na nanatili ang barko sa ilalim ng dagat ay dagdag na araw para kumalat ang langis. Bawat araw na hindi ito nalilinis ay dagdag na araw na hindi naming mapakain ang aming mga pamilya. Bawat araw na hindi natanggal ang langis ay dagdag na araw na paglason nito sa tubig na magdudulot ng mas maliit na huli para sa amin sa mga darating na taon. Nananawagan kami na pangalanan ang dapat managot at magbigay danyos hindi lang sa mga nawalan ng kabuhayan at sa pagkasira ng ating karagatan,” said De Castro.
Protect VIP reiterated its call to provide legal protection and policies in place to safeguard this ecologically fragile marine corridor.
“It was an oil spill that gave birth to the annual celebration of Earth Day and it is saddening that we celebrate it this year while in the midst of one. It is saddening that an environmental disaster propelled VIP to the attention of the country. This highlights more than ever the need to protect this biodiversity gem. It is only right that the VIP comes out of this tragedy with legal protection so it doesn’t suffer this fate,” said Fr. Michael Flores of the Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment (AMEn) of the Archdiocese of Lipa.
The group conducted a meeting with affected communities and sectors, formulating their demands for the government. “We want the government to move – move faster in removing the ship, stopping the spread of the spill, and providing compensation for everyone who lost their livelihood. We want concrete actions and for the government to show us that they have learned their lesson from this incident. Finally, we want justice. We want the government to name names and bring them to account for what has happened,” said Gariguez.